POSTS FROM THE ROAD
EN ROUTE #1
By Joel Kyack
It’s 5:15pm on Friday, September 10th, 2010, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. I’m in the back of a pickup truck that has a cap on it. There is a welded steel frame that is bolted to the bed of the truck. Earlier today I removed one of the two Pontiac Fiero seats that are normally bolted down onto the frame, side by side, and reattached just one in the center. I’m wearing tight black clothing, and on my head and over my face is the mid-section of a black stocking with no holes for eyes or a mouth cut out of it. The cab and side windows of the cap are blacked out. I am a lump of coal in a bucket of blackness.
The seat is facing backwards. The window on the back of the cap is tinted and dusty. On either side of me lay eight puppets, a prop typewriter and axe, an FM broadcaster, a CD player, and a radio with headphones. I have a hand-painted cardboard sign that reads “TUNE TO 89.5 FM”. I thread some tape through a slit I’ve made in the sign and tip the window up just enough to slip it over the back gate and tape it to the inside.
The truck pulls onto the onramp for the 5 freeway heading south, away from downtown LA. This space of the rush hour traffic jam is familiar. Common and universal, we all understand its terms of negotiation and resignation. It is a space where the will of the individual is consumed by a larger, chaotic force. We’re resigned to navigate this terrain not as a solid but as a fluid – we look for opportunities and we take them.
I put on my headphones. I have a puppet named Lil’ Don pulled over my left hand and another in my lap. We merge into traffic, dense and crawling under the afternoon sun. We pull in front of a tractor trailer. I press play on the CD player and slip the other puppet over my right hand. His name is Lee.
In my headphones the soundtrack to the first of four plays begins. With my left foot I kick open the back window. The show begins. People in the vehicles behind me notice the show and point it out to the folks that are with them. They take out their phones and cameras and take pictures and videos, they tune their radios so as to pick up the soundtrack. They laugh and gesture to me and scream out their windows. They jockey aggressively for prime positions behind the truck.
The 5 turns and begins to head east enough so that the setting sun acts as a punishingly bright stage light for the show. I am sweating profusely and the stocking on my head is completely saturated. It is so tight that it is pressing down on my eyelashes. The water clings to the small spaces between the threads of the stocking, and to my eye it looks like I’m heading towards the sun-drenched mouth of a diamond-encrusted cave. Sometimes it becomes so blinding and disorienting that I close my eyes and work the puppets from memory. I try to keep my breathing even and steady and deep as my arms and shoulders begin to cramp. Before the last play begins I pause to punch my arms and shoulders back to life, as the lactic acid buildup has cramped them so that they feel like tree branches.
It’s 1:13am on Saturday, September 11th, 2010. I’m in my studio, thinking about the show and how different it was to do it by myself, instead of having Michael working the other character. I doubt the show was as good, but I liked performing it better. There was more to deal with performing solo, which meant there were more unknowns and moments of improvisation. The project asked from me more than I could give, forcing me to operate on its terms.
My arms and hands are very sore. The tendons in my elbows are inflamed. I’m in the bathroom peeing. Above the toilet a sign reads:
”We don’t win the fight with the techniques that we want. As we roll around, the opponent gives us openings. He tells us what technique he wants to lose the fight with. He says with his actions, ‘Here’s my arm!’, and we take his arm. We create a chaotic situation for the opponent who, out of desperation, offers opportunities. We take whatever he gives.”
– Rorion Gracie
Aikido Journal #101, 1994